[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]
Vincent is losing his mistress, his factory and his health. In the dark night of the bourgeois soul he goes to see the wife he’s already lost because of the mistress. Embarrassed by his needs, discomfited by the sudden knowledge that another man has just left his wife’s bed, he tries on an expansive gesture in her small apartment—and knocks over a vase of straw flowers. Yves Montand is the miraculous kind of actor who can reach over, restore the flowers, and cap the action with a look and wave that encompass “You know me!”, “You would have that kind of thing in your apartment,” ”I’m really up that well-known tributary,” and “There! good as new!” It’s scarcely an isolated actor’s-moment in Vincent, François, Paul et les autres; Montand and his co-players serve up many. One of the best-acted scenes of 1976 is likely to remain the café interview, a bit later in the film, between Montand and wife Stéphane Audran: he indicating by cautious, hopeful indirection that he’s at liberty, the young mistress is gone, he no longer worries about being a man of affairs in any sense, and maybe they could give it another try; she understanding from the first, supremely considerate of his feelings and vulnerability, but aware that life has moved on and so have they, that she must answer other imperatives now.
Peter Hogue recently remarked that much of what is most memorable in the American cinema of the Seventies has more to do with performers than with directors; the observation fits these two French films as aptly. Neither Yves Robert—director of Salut, l’artiste and a former actor himself—nor Claude Sautet manifests an auteurish presence that cries “Stop the presses!” to the publishers of contemporary film histories—although Sautet comes closer than Robert to establishing a directorial identity, with his ungushy-pastel images so quietly redolent of “the things of life” (to borrow one of his own titles). Nothing crucially definitive occurs in either film, but both possess an abundance of nicely observed moments in the lives of characters who are not at all remarkable played by actors who number among the extraordinary.
There’s a biographical rightness to Marcello Mastroianni’s characterization, in Salut, l’artiste, of a job actor—bit player, understudy, comic magician in a nightclub, cartoon dubber, whatever pays a wage—who moves in and out of relationships with a mistress (Françoise Fabian, the personification of intelligent eroticism), an estranged but genially tolerant wife (Carla Gravina, a beguiling cross between Dominique Sanda and Charlie Chaplin), and various easy marks in the showbiz world; the family man who once expressed embarrassment over being taken for an international sex symbol, then began to enact the role offscreen before the decade was out, seems right at home as the eponymous artiste here—personably befuddled, precariously dignified, too old to be Larry Lapinsky and too sweetnatured to be Archie Rice, no more admirable and no more contemptibly opportunistic than most other fellows would be in the same situation. Indeed, the best moments in Salut, l’artiste have to do with Montei (Mastroianni) as a man who makes a living as an actor, especially an irresistibly funny scene of Montei and his partner Clément (Jean Rochefort) at once getting it on and cracking up over the absurd sounds they’re making in chorus while cartoon animals romp on the movie screen before them and Peggy (Fabian) sits behind the glass of the soundbooth—unsmiling, unjudgmental, but recognizing where Montei’s life and hers can never meet. Robert comes near laying it on too heavily in a montage of “dying scenes” as Montei gives up the ghost in sundry Roman epics and over-the-top war movies, but a good deal of the deep and genuine charm of both these films has to do with attractive people—onscreen and offscreen—making a truce with middle age, and getting on as best they can with les choses de la vie.
VINCENT, FRANÇOIS, PAUL AND THE OTHERS (Vincent, François, Paul et les autres)
Direction: Claude Sautet. Screenplay: Jean-Loup Dabadie, Claude Neron and Claude Sautet, after the novel La Grande Marrade by Neron. Cinematography: Jean Boffety. Music: Philippe Sarde. Production: Raymond Danon.
The players: Yves Montand, Michel Piccoli, Serge Reggiani, Gérard Depardieu, Stéphane Audran, Ludmilla Mikael, Marie Dubois, Antonella Lualdi, Catherine Allegret, Umberto Orsini.
Direction: Yves Robert. Screenplay: Jean-Loup Dabadie and Yves Robert; dialogue: Dabadie. Music: Vladimir Cosma; harmonica solos: Toots Thielemans.
The players: Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Rochefort, Françoise Fabian, Carla Gravina.
© 1976 Richard T. Jameson